Last month, schools across the country celebrated Earth Day, many bringing together children and families to clean parks and plant trees.
That’s great, but it’s time to talk about the other 364 days of the year.
We do not underestimate what happened that one day. Trees are much needed on our hot black-topped school grounds, and parks that host children and families are very important. But in the face of a rapidly growing climate catastrophe that is already affecting the lives of our students, what is happening in one day is not enough.
Not when our schools can do so much to slow down and adapt to climate change.
Schools are playing a huge, but often overlooked, role in the climate crisis. They are the second largest form of public infrastructure in the country to which we are allocate $ 114 billion every year. Schools are also one of the largest energy consumers in the public sectorand their nearly half a million diesel buses represent the largest public transport fleet.
Related: Climate change: are we ready?
Thanks the federal U.S. rescue planwe face an exceptional opportunity to turn to a cleaner future.
For example, schools have huge funding available to upgrade heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, in part because improving ventilation can reduce Covid transmission. Indeed, a recent report shows that ventilation, ventilation and air conditioning systems need to be the best the largest category of planned costs.
This report does not tell us whether schools will invest these funds to break the past with technologies such as electrical heat pumpsor just install new fossil fuel stoves, boilers and more.
The consequences are huge. America has committed itself to zero emissions by 2050 – to remove as many greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as they produce – by 2050. It’s hard to see the path to pure zero without big changes in our schools. The new fossil gas boiler installed today will add carbon to the atmosphere after 2050. Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres called the investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure “moral and economic madness.”
The evidence testifies that schools that choose fossil fuel-based systems are likely to spend 20-25 percent more than 30 years. Thus, contrary to what some may suggest, climate choice can also be budget-friendly.
But it’s not just federal rescue funds and ambitious goals that make this moment so important. Due to the fact that oil is now an instrument of Russia’s war against Ukraine, and gas prices are rising as a result, the abandonment of fossil fuels is not just a good economy, it is a declaration of independence and solidarity.
Smarter heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are at the forefront of a number of changes that will help our students – especially in color communities. About only extreme heat 5 percent of racial achievements; colored students disproportionately attend schools without air conditioning.
As forest fires, smoke, storms and floods become more common and severe, a federal report found that most school districts that survived natural disasters between 2017 and 2019 were disproportionately attended by colored students, students from low-income families, English students, and students living with disabilities. GAO reports that a whopping two-thirds of all students attend schools in areas that survived the natural disaster declared by the president between 2017 and 2019.
GAO has also found that our school buildings are not prepared for climate change. Investing in climate-resilient schools can help them survive and stay open – and reduce their contribution to future storm and fire exacerbations.
Many areas looking to the future are paving the way. Berkeley County in West Virginia repaired a set of schools for the use of geothermal energy, fully paying for the project $ 1.7 million, which each year will save energy. Salt Lake City hosted Fr. climate action plan which is 100 percent committed to using renewable energy by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2040, and electric buses and solar panels will replace fossil fuel-based technology – an ambitious program of the day driven by student activity. And in Portland, Oregon, at school district banned the burning of fossil fuels in new construction.
Our big bureaucracy can and should catch up. We have not yet seen the U.S. Department of Education or any public education institutions make it clear to school boards and principals who manage these investments in infrastructure for generations, the harsh consequences of their decisions. On the contrary, Art Video from the Department of Education celebrating the American rescue plan actually highlighted the school district’s investment in a fossil gas boiler.
Here’s what leaders can do now:
All of these efforts have the best chance of success if we support them in our communities – all year round. Constantly attracting attention will do more than just improve school buildings – it will allow students and families to achieve tangible solutions to climate change, one of the issues that most concern young people.
Earth Day 2022 is over. It remains for us to keep going.
Jonathan Klein and Sarah Ross are co-founders FearlessK12a nonprofit organization that supports schools on the path to zero carbon emissions.
This story is about schools and climate change was made Hechinger’s report, a non-profit independent information organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Subscribe to Hechinger Bulletin.